Does your 5 Year-Old Have a Smartphone?

Kara Powell | Nov 3, 2011

Recently at a parent training event, a friend of mine overheard two moms talking, comparing which smartphones they gave their kids, and which apps were the most popular with their kids.

How old were the young I-Droid-Berry users that were the topic of conversation?


Yes, Kindergarteners.

I could end this blog right now, but I’m not going to, because there’s some intriguing and somewhat shocking statistics out from the Common Sense Media Group that reflect the pervasive nature of technology. You can read a summary here, or the full report here.

Here’s some of what was especially striking to me:

Half of kids under 8 (and 40% of 2- to 4-year-olds) have access to a smartphone, iPad or some other mobile media device. Ten percent use these devices daily for an average of 43 minutes. As you might guess, there are some income disparities here. With all the new technologies, however, TV is still king. Seventy-four percent of the media consumption of kids under 8 still consists of the big screen, not the little one.

That leads us to some more depressing stats: Kids under 2 spend more than twice as much time watching video as they do being read to. Nearly four in 10 kids grows up in a house where the TV is on most or all of the time, even if no one is watching it. By the time they hit 8 years old, kids are as likely to have a TV in their bedroom as not.

The report goes on to analyze technology usage as affected by socio-economic status. While children from higher income levels have more time with computers, tablets, and smart phones, they spend less time overall exposed to media than those from lower income levels.

I think of this as a technology double whammy from a justice perspective. The first blow to justice is that children with lower incomes spend less time exposed to the technology that could perhaps aid them in getting higher grades in school, or better understanding the flattening of the world. The second blow is that they spend more time in front of the TV, and are more likely to have a TV in their room. So the technology that children from lower incomes are exposed to is less helpful and more likely to draw them away from the rest of the family.

Last week, Brad Griffin blogged about some helpful resources from our friends at the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding, especially this “Family Digital Code of Conduct” that we recommend as a potentially helpful tool for you and others you know.

If it’s happening with 5 year-olds, it’s never too early to start thinking about and talking about these issues in our families.

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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